BEIRUT: Prime Minister Saad Hariri said Tuesday his government was committed to cooperate with the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) and dismissed claims that Iran’s position concerning the UN-backed tribunal would hinder Syrian-Saudi talks aimed at breaking the political deadlock over the issue.
Hariri told reporters at a joint news conference with his Belgian counterpart Boyko Borisov that though he respected Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s opinion, international resolutions would remain untouched, irrespective of how they were perceived by various parties.
Khamenei dismissed Monday any findings by the UN-backed tribunal as “null and void,” a position endorsed by Iran’s ally, Hizbullah, saying that the STL planned to release a false indictment implicating some of the party’s members in the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.
“We respect supreme leader Sayyed Ali Khamenei … there is no doubt that everyone has a point of view in this matter but international resolutions are international resolutions … This is Iran’s position and we in Lebanon have a position echoed by the government,” said Hariri.
He said that all parties appeared to be seeking regional stability, adding that Khamenei’s position would not negatively impact Syrian-Saudi attempts to break the political deadlock.
“This [Iranian position] will not influence the Syrian-Saudi track which is a very positive one as matters progress, though at a different pace than hoped by some. However, issues take some time,” he added.
Hariri left Beirut Tuesday evening for Saudi Arabia to attend the wedding of Prince Abdulaziz bin Fahd al-Saud.
Echoing Hariri in this regard, Hizbullah said in a statement released by its press office that Khamenei’s position was not in opposition to Syrian-Saudi efforts but rather called for the confrontation of the “STL plot” before it develops into a crisis among the Lebanese.
The statement, which endorsed Khamenei’s position condemning the tribunal as a politicized “US-Israeli” tool, voiced regrets that some parties “misread and misinterpreted an obvious statement calling for the confrontation of a plot through logic and wise thinking.”
Hizbullah has called on Hariri to renounce and halt his government’s cooperation with the court, warning that his failure to comply could “plunge Lebanon into the unknown.”
Though unsurprising in its opposition to the court, some analysts believe that Iran’s public stance was a message conveyed to the STL’s international backers that Hizbullah and its sponsors would not settle for any compromise that involves the implication of any of the party’s members.
Commenting on Tehran’s regional role, Speaker Nabih Berri said Iran was a recognized regional power that played a vital role in its support to Lebanon’s resistance, a reference to Hizbullah. Hizbullah’s Sheikh Naim Qassem called on Hariri and his allies to relinquish support for the STL, warning that their support for the court would backfire.
“Do not make a mistake because the repercussions will backfire at you rather than us. Do not falsely accuse us because you will be uncovered and fall before your own people before you fall before us. Do not be a tool for the US and Israel because all they care about is their interest,” Qassem said.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague said Sunday his country was concerned about Lebanon in the coming weeks, in reference to the expected date of the indictment’s release. But Hizbullah’s ally, Free Patriotic Movement leader MP Michel Aoun dismissed his claims and added that “some parties who sought strife marketed fictitious dangers.” Asked to comment on Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Sfeir’s warning against Hizbullah’s attempt to unilaterally rule the country, Aoun said in a sarcastic tone: “We will be Hizbullah’s partner if it seizes the country.”
In an interview published by Newsweek magazine Tuesday, Hariri played down the odds of an eruption of sectarian strife following the release of the STL indictment. “Violence would be a huge gift to those who want a divided Lebanon. When we are united, we are much more capable of facing the challenges that surround us,” he said. Hariri also reiterated his support for the STL, saying justice and stability were directly related. “Without justice you won’t have stability,” he said.
Criticizing Hariri and President Michel Sleiman, Aoun accused them of blocking government meetings by refusing to put the issue of “false witnesses” to vote.
Hizbullah and its allies insist that the issue be settled before ministerial discussions touch on any other topic. The March 8 coalition demand that “false witnesses,” whom they accuse of misleading the UN probe in 2005, be referred to Lebanon’s highest court, the Judicial Council, but the March 14 coalition says “false witnesses” ought to be tried by the regular judiciary.
The March 14 alliance fears that the investigation of “false witnesses” by the Judicial Council would eventually block the work of the STL.